Johannesburg - It was 1997, and Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgosinkwe were sitting, dejected, in the office of popular DJ and record producer Oscar Mdlongwa.
Everyone else in the record business had rejected them.
However, Mdlongwa, known as DJ Oskido, was thrilled when they sang for him and played him their demo tape.
“Where were you all these years, mafikizolo [latecomer]?” he demanded.
The name stuck.
Twenty years later, Kgosinkwe says: “We were just young and our sound was different. It wasn’t easy to crack it in the music industry.”
That was until Kalawa Jazmee Records’ co-owner gave the youngsters a chance.
“It was our dream to be part of Kalawa’s big family,” says Nciza. The record label helped pioneering kwaito acts such as Boom Shaka, Trompies and Thebe become household names.
Mafikizolo are on the line-up at this year's Toyota presents DRUMBeat. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)
And so Mafikizolo was born – founded by Kgosinkwe, Nciza, and the late Tebogo Madingoane – and marked by a unique sound and sense of style.
Since the beginning, the group has prayed together before going on stage. This has been their ritual over the years and they say they are not ashamed of it.
Another thing their fans may not know about them is that both Nciza, 39, and Kgosinkwe, 44, are introverts. That’s hard to understand when you see Kgosinkwe dancing like a 16-year-old boy on stage.
On Friday, Mafikizolo released their ninth album to celebrate two decades in the industry. It is a 16-track record titled Mafikizolo 20. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1997.
Nciza and Kgosinkwe’s choice of venue for their special celebratory party – Silverstar Casino outside Krugersdorp on the West Rand – was a nod to loyal fans who have supported them since the 1990s.
“We are going back to where it all started. The people from the West Rand gave us support from day one. It wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for them,” Kgosinkwe said this week.
Nciza added: “We just want to share this special moment with our families and fans because we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for their love and support.”
It all started as a dream by three talented youngsters, who rehearsed in Kgosinkwe’s father’s garage. Twenty years later, their music is known across the world.
They are now signed with Universal Music SA. For this album they worked with producer DJ Maphorisa, assisted by DJ Ganyani, Gemini Major and Ralf Gum. Featured artists on the album include Syleena Johnson singing in isiXhosa on Ndifunukwazi, as well as Nigerian singers Yemi Alade and Wizkid, and Monique Bingham.
“In this album, every song is different and unique, but if you are a big fan of Mafikizolo you can still pick up our signature sound,” says Nciza.
“There are Afro-pop melodies, but the sound has grown and it’s different. We have reinvented ourselves,” adds Kgosinkwe.
Asked whether there was a live DVD in the pipeline, Nciza said: “Maybe a documentary, but we are planning something big.”
Before the fame
Nciza met her best friend Fezeka Baleseng when they were six years old and living on the same street in Kagiso, outside Krugersdorp.
“Nhlanhla has always been an active child. At school she was in the choir and she participated in gymnastics and in every beauty pageant. She was born for the stage,” Baleseng says.
“She hasn’t changed a bit; she is still the Nhlanhla I met more than three decades ago. To this day, we call each other every two days and we’ll speak for more than two hours on the phone. When I am feeling down, I know who to contact.”
Mafikizolo’s manager, Modise Kgomo, has known Kgosinkwe since high school, after they met through a mutual friend.
Kgomo says many people don’t know that Kgosinkwe’s first love was soccer.
“Music was his second love.”
He says if Kgosinkwe was not a singer he’d have been one of the country’s best strikers and have played for one of South Africa’s top three clubs.
Kgomo may not have been a musician, but he has an ear for music and, when Mafikizolo started out, he was their beat boxer.
Soon after high school, Kgomo, Kgosinkwe and Nciza began a hair product distribution company called Kings Hair Products because they were struggling to make it in the music business. This, Kgomo says, “was very strange because Nhlanhla was the only queen, yet we still named our company Kings”.
And although the business was promising, they struggled to get to their clients because they didn’t own a car. This was until Kgosinkwe’s father, Harold, came to their rescue and lent them a Citi Golf.
“They owe me a lot of money. They used to use my garage for rehearsals, as well as my car!” laughs Kgosinkwe senior. He says that when his son enrolled at Boston Media House for a media studies course, he thought he would one day work for radio or TV.
While they were pushing their hair products, Ndihamba Nawe became a hit. Kgosinkwe’s father remembers their first overseas trip, to Miami. They were over the moon.
Aside from his work in Mafikizolo, Kgosinkwe is also a musician, composer and songwriter who has produced hits for many artists including Zonke, Unathi Msengana, and the late Busi Mhlongo. His father is very proud.
“In whatever he has achieved in life he still remains humble, respectful and a perfectionist of note,” Kgosinkwe senior says. He adds that the adage is true: a parent sees their blessings through their children.
Nciza’s father, Vusimusizi Mafu, agrees that Kgosinkwe and Nciza are blessings in their lives.
He recalls how they used his tape recorder when they started their music careers.
“Nhlanhla has always loved singing. She used to imitate Brenda Fassie and Toni Braxton, and she used to win many singing competitions in school,” Mafu says.
He remembers their excitement when he accompanied them to collect their first royalty payment.
“It was only R1 000 but they were just over the moon.”
Mafu and his wife, Gadisele, recently returned from a trip to Mauritius their daughter sent them on to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
“It was a way of thanking us as her parents. It’s a blessing to have a daughter like her.”
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